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Satellite Remote Sensing of Air Quality in the Oil Sands Region Open Access


Author or creator
Marey, H.S.
Hashisho, Z.
Fu, L.
Additional contributors
Tar Sands
Forest Fire
Oil Sands
Carbon Monoxide
Remote Sensing
Air Quality
Type of item
Canada, Alberta, Fort McMurray
The rapid expansion of oil sands activities and massive energy requirements to extract and upgrade the bitumen have led to a need for more comprehensive understanding of their potential environmental impacts, particularly on air quality. There are many oil sands developments and natural sources (point, area and mobile) that generate significant emissions, including nitrogen (NO2) and sulphur oxides (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and particulate matter. These chemicals are known to affect human health and climate. Thus an environmental monitoring program that measures the ambient air quality is needed to understand air pollutant emissions, their chemical transformation in the atmosphere, long‐range transport and subsequent deposition to the local and regional environment. Several studies have been conducted to understand the impact of the oil sands projects on the air quality over Alberta using ground-based measurements. However, data from these measurements are limited in spatial coverage as they reflect local air quality and cannot provide information about the overall regional air quality. A complementary approach to ground-based measurements is satellite-based monitoring which can provide large spatial and vertical coverage and allow monitoring of local and regional air quality. The objective of this report is to review available remote sensing technologies for monitoring and understanding the tropospheric constituents in the atmosphere, and potential use for monitoring the air quality over the oil sands region. The report includes a summary of the basic principles of remote sensing using satellites for tropospheric composition measurements; a detailed description of the instruments and techniques used for atmospheric remote sensing from space; demonstration of the key findings and results of using satellite data for air quality application; a brief summary of future missions; and, a case study to demonstrate the use of satellite data to study the impact of oil sands and other sources on carbon monoxide levels over Alberta. The science of atmospheric remote sensing has dramatically evolved over the past two decades and proved to be capable of observing a wide range of chemical species (e.g., aerosols, tropospheric O3, tropospheric NO2, CO, HCHO, and SO2) at increasingly higher spatial and temporal resolution. The integrated use of ground-based and satellite data for air quality applications has proven to be of enormous benefit to our understanding of the global distribution, sources, and trends of air pollutants. Despite the significance of using satellites in characterizations of air quality, there is limited research on using satellite-based remote sensing technology over Alberta. As satellite-based techniques now provide an essential component of observational strategies on regional and global scales, it is recommended to integrate data from satellite, and ground-based measurements as well as chemical transport models for air quality monitoring. This report provides an in depth review of the developments in the atmospheric remote sensing area that may support air quality management, policy, and decision makers at the national, and regional level to take actions to control the exposure to air pollution.
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